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 Alan Wake: Building a Thriller

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Join date : 2010-02-21
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PostSubject: Alan Wake: Building a Thriller   Tue Feb 23, 2010 12:54 pm

There is a difference between a thriller and a horror game. Remedy Entertainment, makers of the upcoming Xbox 360 title Alan Wake, want to make that crystal clear. I recently sat down with a few members of the development team to discuss what went into making this psychologically challenging action game. As it turns out, there's a lot more to making a thriller than simply taking out the gore and buckets of blood.

Sam Lake, Lead Writer for Remedy, described the team's thought process, "We wanted to do a thriller as opposed to a horror title, because all too often in videogames horror means blood and gore and monsters, and we wanted to do something more stylized than that. Something with mystery and atmosphere."

Every member of Remedy I spoke with mentioned a similar design philosophy of straying off of the beaten path. The group looks outside of videogames for inspiration, choosing instead to draw from pop culture. That can make for a unique game, but it can also lead to troubles easily describing what the team is shooting for. "We are doing our own thing," explained Lake. "It's a challenge to describe it so that everyone gets it. It's a psychological action thriller. We think that sums up what the game is rather well. But then you have to go deeper to what we mean by a thriller or what we mean by an action game. It's a combination of different things."

Need a montage? We got it.For Remedy, there are certain givens. The game will have a strong central character and cinematic action. From there, a game can be built. Lake explained how creating a strong character can make a thriller more thrilling. "We want a character-centric story-driven game and we want to use elements that we have liked and would have liked to see in videogames. There are many supernatural elements in Alan Wake, but at the same time it's grounded in reality. We have a married couple who have troubles in their marriage. We have a writer who has problems in his work. Human things that you don't often see in action games. It's been very important for us to have these elements present and have them play a big role."

He continued, "We didn't want an action hero. We wanted someone that would grow into that role during the game…a real person with real problems."

A main character is nothing without a setting. In Alan Wake, the titular character is off on a vacation in Bright Falls. This Pacific Northwest town is where Wake and his wife have decided to retreat to in an effort to repair their marriage and clear Wake's writer's block. Remedy applied the same philosophy of a realistic basis for creating this fictional place. Thousands of reference photos were taken. People were sent out into the woods to camp out and record ambient sounds. Even the grass at Wake's feet is modeled after the local variety. "Everything is truthful to the Pacific Northwest…it's not just grass," explained Saku Lehtinen, Art Director at Remedy.

The thriller aspects come with how you mess with these realistic settings and people. For Alan Wake, the team decided to use light as the driving force behind the action and themes. Jay Ranki, Producer at Remedy, talked about how light and dark correlate to the basic human fears. "For a Remedy game, we need good storytelling and cinematic action. For Alan Wake, we wanted the fight between the light and the darkness. -- the primeval fears of all of us humans -- from the fear of darkness to the fear of the unknown or losing someone you love to the fear of losing your mind."

"Everywhere in the game, the darkness is dangerous and the light is safety and your friend. But we don't want the game to always be straight out action. We want those moments where you actually feel like it's better to run."

Lake talked about how the themes of Alan Wake were partially inspired by where the team works. "Certainly with our focus of the gameplay and the themes of light and darkness, it's something that you can obviously now see out there [in Finland]…When there is no snow it is pitch black and wet through the whole day for a couple of months. It's almost like a schizophrenic thing that, during the summer on the other hand, the sun hardly goes down at all…there is this very big contrast in our lives here up north. I do think that has something to do with where our themes come from."

Lehtinen took it a step further to explain why those themes work so well in a thriller. "Light is so great because it is so psychological…The objective reality is seen by a subjective person." For Alan Wake, the team made light much more than a method of illuminating the scene. "Light is a substance and it makes sounds [when it moves].
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